We Started Turning Feral

Tana French opens chapter six of Broken Harbour with two paragraphs of philosophical musing by her protagonist, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy. He reminisces about the way things were and then he states that something has changed. Somewhere along the line “we started turning feral.”

I remember this country back when I was growing up. We went to church, we ate family suppers around the table, and it would never even have crossed a kid’s mind to tell an adult to f[***] off. There was plenty of bad there, I don’t forget that, but we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn’t break the rules lightly. If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this: people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbours, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero.

Sometime since then, we started turning feral. Wild got into the air like a virus, and it’s spreading. Watch the packs of kids roaming inner-city estates, mindless and brakeless as baboons, looking for something or someone to wreck. Watch the business-men shoving past pregnant women for a seat on the train, using their 4x4s to force smaller cars out of their way, purple-faced and outraged when the world dares to contradict them. Watch the teenagers throw screaming stamping tantrums when, for once, they can’t have it the second they want it. Everything that stops us being animals is eroding, washing away like sand, going and gone.1

Tana French is writing about Ireland but could easily be writing about Canada or the United States. We recognize a truth in Scorcher’s words. There is a sense in which the broadly accepted cultural philosophies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have led us to a more feral, survival of the fittest, mentality – with little hope. We are losing the ability to see past the immediate fulfillment of desires. We are losing the long view of a humanity which desires to improve civilization. We are losing hope.

I recently saw the movie The Shawshank Redemption on television and was struck by what this film has to say about hope. At one point, the character named “Red,” played by Morgan Freeman, has this to say about hope, “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” Yet, at the end of the movie, we are given a very different picture of hope.

Andy: [in a letter to Red] “Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” . . . Red: [narrating] I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”2

The final scene of the movie plays like a metaphor of life and death and the border between this world and heaven. Might it be this kind of hope that is missing in Ireland, Canada, and the United States? Without hope of something more than just this world and all its joys, pains, sufferings, and triumphs, might we slowly become more and more feral? Maybe for just a moment, those who have no hope in a life beyond this world could try having that hope. Put your faith in a life beyond this world and see how it changes the view.

1 French, Tana. Broken Harbour. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012, p. 101.
2 The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont. Performed by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. 1994.

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